China’s troubled Jade Rabbit lunar rover has survived a bitterly cold 14-day lunar night, prompting hopes it can be repaired after a malfunction last month.
The problem was a setback for Beijing’s ambitious military-run space programme, which includes plans for a permanent orbiting station by 2020 and eventually sending a human to the moon.
“The rover stands a chance of being saved as it is still alive,” Pei Zhaoyu, spokesman for China’s lunar probe programme told the official news agency Xinhua.
An earlier report by the semi-official China News Service said an attempt to restore the vehicle to full functionality on Monday had been unsuccessful.
The rover, named Yutu or Jade Rabbit after the pet of Chang’e, the goddess of the moon in Chinese mythology, experienced a “mechanical control abnormality” as the lunar night fell on January 25, provoking an outpouring of sympathy from Chinese Internet users.
But Pei said on Thursday: “Yutu has come back to life!”, adding that the rover “went into sleep under an abnormal status”.
Scientists had been concerned it might not be able to survive the extremely low temperatures of the lunar night, when it was supposed to remain dormant, but it was now receiving signals normally, Xinhua cited him as saying.
But experts were still working to establish the causes of its mechanical control abnormality, the agency reported, without giving details.
Australia-based independent space expert Morris Jones said that the problem involved a solar panel on the rover failing to close.
“This allowed heat to escape from the rover in the cold lunar night. The cold has probably damaged some parts of the rover permanently, but it seems that some parts are still working,” he said.
Beijing sees the space programme as a symbol of China’s rising global stature and technological advancement, as well as the Communist Party’s success in reversing the fortunes of the once-impoverished nation.
The Jade Rabbit was deployed on the moon’s surface on December 15, several hours after the Chang’e-3 probe landed.
The landing – the third such soft-landing in history, and the first of its kind since the Soviet Union’s mission nearly four decades ago – was a huge source of pride in China, where millions across the country charted the rover’s accomplishments.
An unverified Weibo user “Jade Rabbit Lunar Rover”, which has posted first-person accounts in the voice of the probe, on Thursday made its first update since January.
“Hi, anybody there?” it said, prompting thousands of comments within minutes.
Xinhua has said the account is “believed to belong to space enthusiasts who have been following Yutu’s journey to the moon”.